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Heartbreak in men’s basketball

22 August 2016

BASKETBALL: Australia has gone down 89-88 in an epic bronze medal clash with heavyweights Spain, failing by a single point to become the nation's first men’s team to win an Olympic basketball medal.

The Aussies held an 88-87 lead with just under 10 seconds to go when Sergio Rodriguez went hard towards the basket. A retreating Patty Mills was called for a foul which could have gone either way and Rodriguez went to the line where he hit them both and gave Spain the lead back. Australia had one final chance but the Spanish defence broke the play up to go home with the bronze medal.

“It’s tough,” said Mills, who led the way for the Aussies with 30 points.

“We were possibly one defensive stop away but it just goes to show just how hard it is to win a medal at a tournament like the Olympics.

“I think the biggest thing is understanding how much pride and passion each of the boys has to put on the green and gold. This is what it is all about being able to step on the floor and leave everything out there for your country.

“We just hope that everyone back home was able to feel like they were on the journey with us because it was one hell of a journey and one that, if you had the opportunity, you would do it day in and day out.”

The Australian team headed to Rio with a goal of winning the nation’s first Olympic medal in men’s basketball and came as close as you can get.

The task was made even more difficult for the Aussies when Andrew Bogut fouled out at the start of the third quarter, but the Aussies never gave up.

“We set ourselves a very believable goal that we could get and it’s hard when you don’t achieve that," said Mills.

“We’ll come out of this with a lot of confidence and a lot of fuel to the fire to be able to come back and get it done again.

“Confidence is the biggest thing (we will get out of this). To know that we can hang with the big boys and beating some of them is something we can add to our belief.”

In what was a clear early tactic, the Aussies fed Aron Baynes down low and he got the scoring underway. The Spanish scored the next six straight, though, and were never headed for the rest of the quarter.

Defensive anchor Bogut had two fouls within the opening six minutes as the Aussies got into foul trouble and the Spanish shot nine free throws in the opening stanza.

It was clear the Spanish were going to lean on NBA stars Gasol and Nikola Mirotic and the duo proved hard to contain. They combined to score the side’s first 16 points as they finished the quarter with eight apiece and gave their side a 23-17 at the first break.

The sides traded baskets early in the second before two quick threes and a lay-in from Gasol had pushed the lead to 40-28 as the Spanish looked to sneak away.

Needing a spark, Ingles hit a pair of free throws before Patty Mills drained a three to have the lead down to seven.

David Andersen hit a triple himself before getting fouled on the last scoring play of the half. He hit two of those three free throws to cut the Spanish lead to 40-38 as the Aussies headed into the main break with all the momentum.

Immediately out of the break Bogut picked up his fourth foul before a Mills three and a Dellavedova floater gave Australia their first lead since the opening minute at 43-42.

With Bogut remaining on the court the Spanish began to go straight at the Aussie big man. It didn’t work the first time as Bogut got the block, but the next time down the court a drive to the basket saw the Aussie star pick up his fifth and he was fouled out in the opening minutes of the second half.

If Gasol was hard to slow down when Bogut was out there, he now looked unstoppable. The Aussies scored 26 in the third quarter but just couldn’t slow down the Spanish star.

The match had become the Gasol and Mills show with the soon-to-be NBA teammates going basket-for-basket as the Spaniard moved to 25 and Mills to 23 by the end of the third quarter as the team in red held a 67-64 lead with 10 minutes remaining.

The Spanish quickly extended their lead to six out of the break before the Aussies sunk the next six, punctuated by a thunderous dunk from Brock Motum, who was stepping up in Bogut’s absence.

Dellavedova was the next in foul trouble as he sat down with 7:42 to go.

A technical foul, the third of the match on Australia, and a lay-in gave the Spanish a three point lead but without Bogut this needed to be a team effort from the Aussies.

It was now Ryan Broekhoff’s turn to step up as he hit a triple and then a jumper to get the Aussies the 75-73 lead.

It was back and forth though and a Spanish free-throw levelled the scores at 79-79. Mills would get his 28th point from the strip as he went one-from-two with just over three minutes on the clock as the Aussies were again back in front.

Gasol hit a fade-away, Baynes answered, before a put-back dunk from Gasol had the Spanish fans on their feet.

Mills then went high off the glass before Spain snatched an 85-84 lead heading into the final minute.

Andersen hit two free throws but Gasol would get two of his own from the stripe as Spain to make it 86-87 with with 28.8 seconds remaining.

Baynes gave the Aussies the lead back with 9.8 seconds remaining Rodriguez’s two free throws had Spain back on top with 5.4 seconds to go.

The Aussies had one shot to win it but the ball was knocked away and Spain took the bronze medal.

It was a tough way to end a tournament that started so brightly for a team that came to Rio to stand on the podium and nothing short of that was going to suffice.

“It is disappointing,” Bogut said.

“The last two games from the team standpoint to lose were tough and from an individual standpoint they were my two worst games of the tournament.

“It’s going to eat at my for the next couple of days and it’s something you have to deal with.”

The side defeated France and Serbia in their opening two matches before taking the USA to the death. They bounced back to defeat China and Venezuela to finish second in their group.

They then beat Croatia in their quarter-final before a semi-final loss to Serbia, arguably their only poor match of the tournament, set up the bronze medal match with Spain.

USA will play Serbia for one of the last gold medals to be handed out in Rio this afternoon.

Matt Bartolo

olympics.com.au

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